Sledgehammer Games showed their Call of Duty making chops with their work on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, but they aim to nuke our expectations of what a COD game is with Advanced Warfare. Aaron Halon, Senior Development Director on Advanced Warfare gave Examiner an exclusive look at what will be different about this entry into the storied series.
THREE YEARS, TWO GAMES, AND AN EXOSKELETON
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the first title to benefit from the extension from two to three year development cycle, and Halon believes it allowed them to flesh out what their game could be much better.
"We feel that to be truly next-gen, to have three years to work on the game is a big help," Halon said, "In a way, the three years takes off the pressure a little bit because you have a little more time to cook your ideas, proof things out, to prototype, to iterate, so the three years helps us a lot."
Yes there’s pressure but it’s the good kind of pressure."
Halon described the extended period as allowing Sledgehammer to do more concept work, prototyping, R&D and more of the pre-work to make their vision of near-future warfare the most true to life it could be. This extra time will surely alleviate the notion some gamers have that Call of Duty games are pumped out too quickly, and simply made to make a yearly copy. As evident from the footage and trailers thus far, Sledgehammer certainly isn't playing it safe when it comes to campaign ideas.
Everything is that much better because of [the three-year dev cycle]."
Sledgehammer's inspiration for Advanced Warfare looks to take what was originally a dream concept, now appearing more and more in headlines as a real world application, in the exoskeleton and imagine the military implications of putting these units on the battlefield.
"The Exoskeleton stuff, we were coming up with that, and this is three years ago," said Halon, "and next thing we know we’re reading papers on it."
We’ve had both the experience of coming up with the idea and then reading about it the next week, or reading about something and saying ‘whoa, that’s got to go in the game.’"
Halon explained that the jumps in technology and the movement from notion to motion on these exoskeleton applications served as great research material. The team was able to see the jumps we've made in the last 5 years and ask where the tech would be headed next. Halon described the teams thought process,
"It’s real technology that’s out there. We’re taking that and saying, ‘where will it be in forty years?’ [Our concept] is a little more advanced, but almost every idea we have can be related in some way to a real-world equivalent. I think that helps to ground the game and make it feel very realistic."
These exoskeleton's serve as much more than set dressing and a 'cool feature', as the exo will indeed progress, level, and grow with the player throughout the single player control. It's safe to assume that progression will echo something similar to what Call of Duty multiplayer progression has looked like since the Modern Warfare releases back in 2007.
"We have an upgrading system in the campaign," said Halon, "It’s all through the exoskeleton, so you can improve and trick out your exoskeleton as the game goes on."
Players will upgrade their exoskeleton by performing challenges or prescribed actions in order to attain points. This mechanic could serve to get traditional Call of Duty players out of their shell, trying the new double jump, boost slide, and dodge traversal options in unique ways, which will surely make their way in to the multiplayer experience.
"There are several different challenges and requirements you have to meet in order to earn upgrades. Basically, the more challenges you complete, the more points you’ll earn," said Halon.
ACTION, IMPROV, AND ADAPTATION IN 'CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE'
Kevin Spacey is in this video game. Those that didn't see the attention grabbing reveal trailer, Spacey plays Jonathon Irons, head of Atlas Corporation, the largest Private Military Corporation on the planet. Evident in some other trailers is that Irons is an iron-fisted, no apologies type of leader, who believes whatever he does, is right. While immediate assumptions would dictate Spacey is the villain, Halon told us not to jump to conclusions.
[Irons] sees himself as a master of efficiency, where a government gets bogged down with bureaucracy, he can cut through that. He’s a pretty interesting character."
Halon was coy on details as to what exactly that meant, but left the door open for plenty of speculation. Will Irons be a good guy gone bad? Or will he be the Magneto class with intentions in the right place, but actions that speak of a villain? Time will tell, and Halon will not.
"I'm not saying he's really a villain or not, " Halon dodged, "he's got a more complex role than that in the story."
Halon gave us a few tidbits and teases regarding Irons, saying that he "is a very important character...and has a special relationship with the main character, Mitchell."
Spacey proved to be a force in front of the camera, as is almost expected from the House of Cards star, but Halon reinforced that Spacey truly made the team around him better as well. Halon said,
[Kevin] was a real joy to work with, very professional and just elevated the other actors around him, it was a real treat."
Halon was also open that the narrative within Advanced Warfare has gone through iterations, and was constantly being tweaked and challenged, sometimes by Spacey himself.
"[Kevin] made different choices, they were things I didn’t even think of and they were great because he really thought through the character," Halon explained, "[Kevin] studied the material and really dove deep into who [Jonathan Irons] is."
Improv and alterations to scripts, narrative, and plot are not new in the game development, but should serve as a point of ease to players worried about one person's artistic vision being the rule. The open nature with which Sledgehammer is approaching Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is being created serves to offer the best possible story from the source material, and with talent as robust as Spacey giving input and insight into the character, it surely will benefit the end product.
SETTING, TECH, AND STORY ARE COGS THAT TURN THE 'ADVANCED WARFARE' MACHINE
In action that would be easily described as overdue, the Call of Duty engine has been overhauled, the audio has been built from the ground up, and now, Call of Duty truly moves in to the next generation. Halon explained,
We’re doing a lot of things that are new with our characters. We have simulated muscular features in the face called blend-shapes, and those are new. You’re seeing a level of fidelity in the faces and performances that you just couldn’t really get before, so that’s really exciting as a storyteller."
Call of Duty utilizing facial performances in a way that hasn't been done before represents a great opportunity to tell some truly moving stories of combat, and the emotions soldiers can go through. Before, the same lifeless eyes that were just shooting in to the corner instead of the enemy, can now emote their anger, anxiety, or sadness in real time. Games like The Last of Us have utilized this tech to great effect, coupled with stellar voice acting, to turn great performances in to great games.
"All of those things are new and in my opinion make the game a lot better." said Halon.
Halon also explained his excitement with the freedom of setting due to the character choices they had made.
"We have this idea of this private military corporation that can really be anywhere," Halon said, "It’s not a border on border conflict where you know where the front line is."
With that, Sledgehammer gains the ability to take us to new locations, some shown in trailers and artwork, that the series has yet to discover. San Francisco, Korea, and Eastern Europe to name a few, with Halon still holding out a few locations for inevitable discovery come November.
WHAT SETS 'CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE' APART?
Halon said it best,
I think through our ability to tell a great story, and with our history of telling really great narrative with games like Dead Space, I think we’ll really bring something great and different to the franchise that way."
Players should look forward to an engaging story from the team that brought us the incredible Dead Space, stepped up when called upon for Modern Warfare 3, and knows they have the weight of a multi-million dollar franchise on their shoulders with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Sledgehammer doesn't want to just meet expectations, they're aiming down sights, and they want to demolish the whole target.
"Everything is that much better because of [the three-year dev cycle]. It’s also the first time we’re truly developing on next-gen consoles," said Halon, "so all of those things that come with next-gen will help [Advanced Warfare] standout."